Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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It’s over … mostly #gardening #minnesota #fall #autumn

poorgarden

Remember the snow from last week’s post? And I had to scrape frost from my windshield a day or two later. No, I didn’t cover anything this time.

How do you spell relief when you are a gardener in MN?

FROST.

Yep. Killed pretty much everything not related to cabbage. This picture is from the vantage of the potato bed. Not a great shot, because I dug potatoes weeks ago. It does look pretty desolate though.

The peppers and the zucchini are now wilty versions of their former selves, along with all the remaining bounty. It was a great year for peppers; I finally stopped picking them because, well, how many stuffed peppers can two people eat?

My seasonal favorites weathered the cold just fine.

I’m finishing off the last of the beets, and brussels sprouts are next on the menu, I think. Or kale. Or both. The sprouts did really well this year. I have had some already, but after a frost they tend to sweeten up a bit. Kale, too.

The biggest task now is to clean out the garden and till it. I like to take all the raked-up leaves (when I feel like raking them, because with a grove, it’s like cleaning up kids’ toys just before they roll through again; looks like you didn’t do anything 🙂 ) and dump them into the garden before we till it in.

We’ll leave the sprouts and kale alone. They’ll be fine for a while yet. Oh, and another bonus we get almost every year:

raspberries2raspberries

I suspect it’s the variety, but we usually get some berries in mid-summer, then another crop in fall, depending of course on how cold it is. The raspberry flowers are some of the few flowers still around for the bees. When I was picking peppers a couple weeks back, I checked out the raspberries. So many bees! I don’t think I’ve seen that many bees in one place all summer. They weren’t the European honeybees, though. They were wild bees, which are furrier then the European ones, but not as big as bumblebees. So. Cool.

The chickens are all laying eggs now, or at least most of them are. And the flock likes to follow us around; a couple of the black ones are really keen on being shadows.

chickens

Five of the seven: 3 black, one brown, one speckled

We keep discussing letting them out of the pen for a few hours (putting the dogs in the house, of course), but hubs said he heard a coyote during the day earlier this week. So, probably not letting the chickens out to roam. Not now, anyway. I feel bad because there isn’t any vegetation in the pen (hubs and son “re-landscaped” the area when they redid the pen this spring). I throw tall weeds in the pen for them; its’s a great use for those weeds that are too close to the garden fence to mow.

And more homework! I’m revising my next chunk of my WIP to send off to my writing teacher. I want to get the draft done before NaNo starts. A dream, unless I whisk off to an isolated cabin with heat, internet, wine, and chocolate for a week or two. Still, I’m going to try. Even without the chocolate 🙂

So, as Dory says:

dory

Have a great weekend!

zoey_cr


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Don’t say it’s Snow #minnesota #amwriting #winter

snow2

It is. The four-letter S word. NOOOOO! It’s too early! It’s only almost the middle of October.

Then again, we will miss out on the BLIZZARD hanging out in North Dakota. Whew!

So not ready for this. I’m still trying to enjoy the fall colors. Sigh. Then again, bonus: what a great excuse to stay inside and write! Granted, this weekend–tomorrow really–is only a taste of winter, and we get back to our regularly-scheduled autumn next week. Cooler than average, but no snow.

I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the garden; I’ll try to get it once the weather clears up in a couple days. The only things really left are the kale and the brussels sprouts. I’m not going to cover the peppers or zucchini. They will fall to the cold.

I’ve got one more unit left to finish for my class. I get to write a query and synopsis for my WIP. However, I’m going to finish the draft first. Translated: put off writing the query and synopsis as long as possible. 😀

And for those preparing for NaNo this year, I’ll see ya there! (buddy up if you want: my NaNo handle is Aislinge) Depending on how far I get with the draft for Book 2, aka my WIP, aka my class project, I’ll either keep working on that, or start drafting–again–another project I keep thinking about. And I’m going to squeeze in a short story somewhere in there. Our local Sisters in Crime chapter is putting an anthology together again this year. Deadline for submission is December 1. Whether my story will get chosen or not, who knows, but it’d be great if it was.

Another short post this week. Somehow I always feel like I’m trying to keep up or catch up. It’s tough enough to keep up with things around a full-time job, garden stuff (except that’s pretty much done now), and house upkeep (read: the house is sooo not clean). Crossing my fingers any sort of cold or flu stays far away.

Some of my writer friends have been under the weather lately. I know I can’t write or work on the computer when I’m sick, so I tend to watch TV, or maybe read. TV-wise, I will often pull out a How to Train your Dragon movie or a Star Wars movie. What about you? What do you do besides sleep when you’re sick?

Happy Writing and may Winter stay away for another month!

zoey2

Bah! Wake me when it’s over.


31 Comments

October Already?

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I’m still trying to figure out where September went. Or maybe I just blinked and it vanished. The trees are starting to wear their colors in our area. I was driving home from work and noticed the hills along the river have more yellow in the green now. There are a few brilliant pinks around, but more of the deeper magentas.

It’s my favorite part of autumn. The colors, fewer bugs, the garden is pretty much finished, and there’s something about the apples, pumpkins, and squash that are ready about now. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the cooler weather; a great excuse to find more “cozy”. You know, hot cider, flannel, fireplaces lit, curling up with a good book, but no snow. Not yet (except way up in northern MN, where they got a dusting earlier this week).

I haven’t grown pumpkins for a few years, but I might have to next year; I’m thinking it’s past time to make pumpkin bread. I’m not one for pumpkin pie, but I have a good recipe for pumpkin bread. And apple bread, but it’s the first part of the harvest, so I’m not tired of apples yet. I just bought my first tote bag (about a peck) of Honeycrisps. There’s a new variety out now, developed, like the Honeycrisp, by the University of MN: First Kiss. It’s the first year it’s available, so there aren’t many around yet, but I’m interested in trying it.

Yes, I’m already thinking about next year’s garden, and I know what I’m not going to plant: zucchini. Nope. No zucchini. I cooked up zucchini only once this year. I’m debating about cucumbers as well. But the chickens love cucumbers …

Saturday I’m off to another book festival, so Sunday is slated for writing. I still have a homework assignment I promised my writing teacher I would finish by Monday. And all those blog posts I’m behind on. So my word for the weekend is: FOCUS.

Short post this week, so I can practice FOCUSING. On the bright side, NaNoWriMo is coming up in a month. I always take the opportunity to reset the habit of writing every day. Which means, FOCUSING.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and keep writing!

zoeyprowl

On the prowl


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Giving her the heebie-jeebies #amwriting #mystery

The unit I’m working on in my writing class has to do with setting, how it can become more than just a backdrop or stage for the story. The words you use to describe the setting also contribute to the atmosphere or “feel” of the story. Think Edgar Allan Poe. When you read his stuff, notice the descriptive words he uses. For example, here are the first few sentences of “The Fall of the House of Usher”:

 DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was –but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

No sunshine and rainbows and unicorns there. Just that little bit will call clouds to rain on a parade. For comparison, I use the first page of Where the Crawdads Sing, which I’m almost finished with. I like it, but it’s a bit slow. The descriptions are really some of the best parts of the book. Delia Owens makes the marsh a character in the story:

capture-where-the-crawdads-sing

There is so much atmosphere here that the reader has the sense of standing out in the marsh and experiencing some sort of transcendence. And notice the personification of the swamp. The setting should get co-star billing in this.

Back to my homework. My current assignment (*aside to my writing teacher* yes, I am working on it 😀 ) is to take a character and put them into a setting that makes them uncomfortable. And they can’t leave the setting during the scene.

See where the heebie-jeebies comes in? Part of the task is to decide whether to use a scene that’s already written, or write a new scene. I haven’t quite hit the part of the story where this comes into play.

It’s one thing to put a character into someplace unfamiliar; that’s almost like cheating, because any unfamiliar place can make a person uncomfortable. Discomfort can range anywhere from that lost feeling one can get in a huge parking ramp at the airport to the goose-pimply spooky feeling when you wander into an old house at night to get out of the rain … and the door slams shut behind you (and yes, for all those Supernatural fans, I’m counting the days until the last season premiere!).

But that’s too easy, right? Okay, how about the ol’ “fish out of water” trick? Take a yuppie and drop her in the woods miles from civilization (and you know she’s wearing heels, because they always do), or take the farm-raised nature kid and make them find their way through Times Square at rush hour.

Eh, still too easy. The point of taking the class, besides to get my butt in gear on Book 2, is to exercise my author muscles and build a great story. So, if anyone has read my book, you know that my main character had a stalker about six years before the book starts. She’s worked hard to overcome that visceral fear of being followed, and she’s conquered that fear.

Or has she? *rubs hands together and cackles*. So I will put her in a place where she learned to be comfortable again once her stalker was put in prison. And make sure she thinks someone is following her. That’ll make her squirm.

Think about a place you are comfortable, like the library, or the gym, or the coffee shop. Now, think about being in that place when a massive storm moves in, and there’s a weird creepy guy who has been staring at you for the past hour. The lights go out! Thunder crashes. Something brushes against you. In the next flash of lightning the creepy guy isn’t where he was–he’s gone. And you can’t leave. Mwahahahahaha!

Yes, this example is dripping with cliche, and I now have a scary movie script started 😀 😀 😀 It’s all about using the setting to affect the character in a way that bumps up the tension in the story.

I’ll be trying to catch up on reading blogs and doing my homework this weekend. Hope you get some writing time in, too!

zoey chair

Hey, you’re not taking my picture, are you?


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Book launch: Quest For Home #amreading #booklaunch

Today I’m helping a friend with her virtual book tour. I’d like to welcome Jacqui Murray and help her introduce her new book, Quest for Home. I always like learning something new about authors, so here are a few questions for Jacqui.

  • How do you know these People are as smart as they seem?

Just to be clear, because these predecessors to man lived long before recorded history, scientists have no definitive evidence of their intelligence. We do get hints of its excellence, though, from their toolmaking. The complex thought required to create their stone tools (called Acheulean), the variety of tool types (cutters, choppers, handaxes, cleavers, flakes, scrapers, and more), and their aesthetically pleasing and functional forms make many paleoanthropologists believe Homo erectus was cerebrally smart. A 2017 study mapped the brains of students as they recreated these same tools and it showed that the work required higher-level motor skills and the ability to ‘hold in mind’ information—much as you do to plan and complete complex tasks (the study compared it to playing Chopin on the piano but I have no idea about that).

  • Their speech is too sophisticated.

As a species, Homo erectus lasted far longer than any other Homo species—and there is a reason for that: They were not only highly intelligent for the day but possessed rich communication skills. Their sophisticated tools, especially the symmetry of the hand-axe, suggests to many scientists that they possessed the ability to use language. Since most paleoanthropologists (scientists who study prehistoric man) believe the ‘speech’ part of their brain—the part that allowed them to speak—wasn’t evolved enough for verbal words, I present communication often through body language.

A more convincing argument of why early man didn’t want to talk is that voices are noisy and unnatural. That attracts unwanted attention. For these primordial humans, far from the alpha in the food chain, being noticed wasn’t good.

Short Summary:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a grueling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

QFH cover

Book information:

Title: The Quest for Home

Series: Book 2 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Available at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU

Jacqui photo

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.

 

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page:        https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog:                                       https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram:                             https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:                                http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:                                http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:                                   http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:                                 https://jacquimurray.net


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Best-made plans, derailed by stairs? #amwriting

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I slam the door to my writing office.

“Hey.” My Muse intercepts me on my way to the corner.

I shove around him; I hear a recliner calling my name.

He grabs my arm, pulling me to a stop. “What’s going on, love?”

Something about my Muse in his burgundy henley and worn-well jeans and smelling like the great outdoors in fall cools my frustration. I can’t help the sigh.

“You know, when you have a nice list of stuff to do on an impromptu trip that you didn’t really plan to do on your day off but planned anyway because it made sense, and you think of all the stuff you’ll be able to cross off your to-do list, and you really want to cross all that stuff off because then it’s done?” Yes, I know it’s a run-on sentence, but I don’t care.

He pauses for a moment, probably deciphering my ramble. “Yes.”

“And then Murphy comes along and sticks a finger in it just because he has nothing better to do?”

“I take it you weren’t able to cross much off your list.”

Another sigh. “I know unexpected stuff comes up, and I’m okay with that because that’s life, but I wanted to do some writing after I got home.” Grumble. “Totally trashed that idea.” The day was such a bust I’m having a hard time just settling my frustration, much less writing anything.

He steers me toward a recliner. “Sit.” I comply without protest because that was my plan anyway. He sits on the edge of the other recliner. “Do you need to walk through it?”

Argh. “So, I go down to Mankato to help my daughter get her student loan paperwork done and tuition paid, and she wants to come home this weekend but needs a ride because her last class ends at four and her friends that are coming home this weekend want to leave earlier and my son isn’t coming home so she needs a ride home and since I’m down there I was going to do my errands and probably have a little extra time I could spend working on my stuff.” Deep breath.

“Slow down, love.”

“I took today off so I could do some writing and I needed a break from work but then the whole Mankato thing came up–tuition is due the end of the month but I know that if I don’t push her to do anything she’ll wait until the very last minute and then if she has to do extra stuff in oder to get the loan she won’t be able to pay tuition on time–and I have to get my new glasses reworked again because they still don’t have the progression in the right spot so I wanted to do that and I have a book fair thing all day on Saturday so I won’t get anything done other than what I can do there which might not be much so I only have Sunday to really do stuff, but I’ll need to recover a bit from Saturday …”

“Stop.” He leans over me. “Slow. Down. What happened?”

“So, I get to campus and meet my daughter at eleven–she has a break until her one o’clock class–and we walk over to the cashier’s office and find out she has to accept her loan first and to do that she has to watch some informational video thing …”

“Julie.”

“I’m getting to it. So I tell her to do the video thing at home this weekend because it takes a half hour, she shouldn’t do it on her phone, and her brother will be there to help if she needs it. He is coming home anyway this weekend.”

“You still haven’t told me what happened.”

“You know it was hot and sooo humid. And campus is, like, a ten-minute hike from her apartment. I left her on campus to go to her class and walked back to her apartment.  I left her apartment and head to the shopping area to start my errands, and I get a call from her while I’m driving–Minnesota is hands-free now so I can’t talk–but she says it’s an emergency.”

“I’m waiting.”

“She fell down a step. She misstepped and basically rolled her foot and fell hard. She had friends with her, but needed me to come and get her and take her to the hospital.”

Another pause. “Don’t they have emergency services on campus?”

“There’s a clinic, but no sort of ER or anything. So right then, my plans go ‘poof’. Luckily one of her friends called the EMT and her other friend is a guy big enough to pick her up and carry her someplace not on the stairs outside in the humid heat because she can’t walk. The EMT thought nothing was broken but he advised getting an X-ray but the clinic doesn’t have anything like that.”

“Finish up, love.”

“So I finally find her–I don’t know where anything is on campus except the dorm she and my son used to live in–and my sense of direction is as good as a rock. She tells me what buildings she’s by, but I don’t know where they are, and she sends me a campus map with her location circled and it still takes me ten freaking minutes to figure out where she is and how to get there then we have to get her stuff from her apartment before driving all the way up to our usual hospital to Urgent Care, because we know that hospital is in our network and she wasn’t bleeding to death or anything. And then we were in Urgent Care for, like, two hours. Two hours! After an hour and a half drive.”

“Was her foot broken?”

“No, and we really didn’t think it was. A ligament on the top of the foot was pulled, so it’s a bad sprain. But all that just torched the whole day. And it was mostly the drive and the two or more hours in Urgent Care–and we were, like, the only people there.”

My Muse nods. “Okay, I get it. Shit happens.”

“I know, I know. But it’s still frustrating.”

My daughter is okay. They gave her a splint so she can’t twist her foot and gave her the whole ibuprofen, ice, rest routine. And I’m off to my book fair all day. At least there will be four other Sisters in Crime members there to hang with. And maybe my sister-in-law, who is a member of the Friends of the Library there.

Have a productive writing weekend!

zoey1

 


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All the stage is a kitchen #amwriting

“You know, love, I try to be inspiring.” My Muse leans over my shoulder, so close I can smell evergreen and fresh-cut wood with a touch of cinnamon. “But I have to tell you that’s a stupid title for your post.”

“Gee, thanks. I don’t hear you coming up with a better one.” Or a post subject for that matter. I lean back in my office chair with a bit of difficulty since he’s standing right behind me, all six-foot two inches of his toned physique. With his red and black flannel shirt rolled halfway up his forearms and worn-well jeans, I envision him more inclined to throw a steak or two on the barbie instead of shrimp. Hell, forget the barbie; just cook ’em over a campfire.

Image by Tommy_Rau from Pixabay

He plants a hand on the back of my chair and bends closer, giving me a view of the individual hairs of his stubble, now more ten o’clock shadow than five o’clock, covering his square jaw and …

“Really, love? That is so cliche.”

“Which part? The ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ part or the rugged outdoorsman cooking steak over fire part?” I can feel the heat from his skin. I should probably open a window; it’s getting a little warm in here. “I figure you’re Australian, so shrimp.” It goes with the Aussie surfer image. Then again, the roguish look works for him. Definitely works for him.

He turns to face me and rests a hip on my desk. “We are not talking about shrimp, love. Or steak. We are talking about the scene in your WIP. Focus.”

Fine. “Okay, so the thing is everyone is over at the mentor’s house. Well, his widow’s house. They went over there yesterday after the memorial service, had coffee and caught up on a few things. Some conflict between a couple characters. Another character comes and argues with the son-in-law. A little foreshadowing. The scene takes place in the kitchen slash dining area, of course, because that’s where everyone gathers.”

“Sounds logical. What’s the problem?”

“Well, my other main character arrives at the house the next morning, and of course that’s another meet and greet, also in the kitchen area, because that’s where you do things like that. Then the police chief arrives to share some information, and of course that all takes place in the kitchen, too.”

“So, you’re saying it’s boring.”

“Not boring, but shouldn’t there be some change of scenery? I mean, do readers want to see two or three scenes in a row all in the kitchen slash dining area?”

“Are there any scenes in that sequence that are not in the kitchen area?”

“Well, yeah. The main character goes to the garage, where the mentor died, to look over the scene.” Everything is done indoors, in the same-ish space. “But everyone is at the house. In the house. And they are all sitting around the table drinking coffee.” Because that’s what people do.

“Hmm.” He scratches at his stubble. “What about a patio in the backyard?”

“It’s just before Memorial Day weekend in northern Minnesota. In the morning. It’s chilly outside.” I review the layout of the house in my head. “What if they go into the living room to discuss the chief’s news? Would that work?”

“Sure, it will work,” he says, “but will it be enough is the question, right? All you can do is write it and see how it reads.”

“C’mon, you’re my Muse. Help me out, here. Give me some other ideas.”

“Why are they sitting around the table? What are they talking about? Is it a matter of the characters getting information or the reader?”

“Both. I’m just thinking about how this stuff works in real life. That’s what you do. Someone dies, everyone goes back to the house and talks about stuff because weddings and funerals are when people reunite. You talk about stuff at the table …”

Hold on. Duh. “The first day, after the memorial, it’s later, early evening I suppose, when they get back to the house. They could hang out on the patio then. It’s late May, so it stays light out later.” It would still be cool out, but that might be where the mentor and his wife used to sit and enjoy the flowers. That adds an emotional connection.

My Muse wears a self-satisfied grin. “See, love, I knew you’d figure it out.”

This is how a lot of my scene work goes, though. I write it, it’s not quite right, then I take a walk and talk things through until something clicks. It’s a good thing we’re out in the country, or someone might call those nice young men in their clean white coats 😀

After all the rain this week, I might venture into the garden later, but for now, I have some (lots of!) writing to do. Enjoy your weekend!